Liverpool FC: The Rivals
It’s a crying shame what’s happened to West Ham United.
Seriously. How a decent club has fallen.
True, they’ve always been a side liable to go down every five or so years, but they’ve never been a club to betray their footballing principles. They may have the odd knobhead and the occasional embarrassing celebrity fan, but so have we. Personally, I’ve always had a soft spot for them. It spoke volumes that the streets of Cardiff following the 2006 FA Cup Final – the Gerrard final if you will – were friendly and engaging despite their heartache of surrendering a two-goal lead in a Cup Final. A good outfit.
There are – or were – similarities too. Both are born near a river (I’m Anfield Index’s Sam Cook), have a local dockyard, a working-class hard-core at the time they were formed and cast sidelong glances at the more moneyed opposition a handful of miles away. More importantly, both sets of fans like to play the game properly and are governed by a similar ethos.
Then came Allardyce and away went the traditions of those traditions to be replaced with sturdy journeymen with pointed elbows and an allergy to a ball delivered to feet. That started the rot and now they’ve been reduced to Moyes – a man who has never won at Anfield in an age where we were no longer as impregnable as was often supposed. Even Ian Holloway managed that.
Then there are the owners. Gold, Brady and Sullivan have all but torn the heart out of that club and were seduced by the offer of a free stadium, even if it has all the soul of a service station on the A1. Upton Park – a favourite away ground for many Reds- was sacrificed on the altar of progress and the Hammers have drifted away from what once made them great, or at least honest.
Still, we were grateful for the points last Saturday and they were forthcoming from the very moment Emre Can lost his marker and Liverpool scored from – yes! – a corner (I should explain. There are some of us who regularly berated the glory sides for never converting a corner, even when we were battering the world). David Moyes later claimed that the Hammers were still in the game in the first half, but they must have known how the second half would go. Liverpool unleashed hell.
The lads briefly climbed to second in the league and though that was taken away from us by United’s victory against Chelsea, it was good to see this side finally receiving some reward for their consistency. One defeat in nineteen games would ordinarily send a team to the top of the table, but this is the Year of the Freak Season for Manchester City. This is their 1987-88 Liverpool season. They may not be able to claim a Quadruple now thanks to Wigan, but they’re going to end the season with smiles.
Liverpool can finish second and that would be no disgrace since City have walked away from the rest of the division before the New Year. The only chagrin we can have in our rivalry is that we were the side to finally beat them in the League. That game was important as it sets a marker for future encounters. Kevin De Bruyne may be good enough to be in the Messi/Ronaldo class and Ederson may well be the final piece in their largest of jigsaws, but our lads met them head to head and beat them. That means something and though it may be a small hill of beans when determining the outcome of the title, it will always be there as a marker. If we can beat that City side, we should be afraid of nobody as not many people have done that.
The other sides are as interesting as they are flawed. United are really odd this year inasmuch as they are capable of beating what is still a strong Chelsea side with strength and pace yet still close up against the lesser sides as if somehow saving their powers for someone else. Defeats at Huddersfield and Newcastle would have once been unthinkable during the Ferguson era, but somehow other clubs have detected a softer underbelly.
Tottenham, the current media darlings, can destroy most sides on their day yet have a habit of leaving things late or allowing fate to be governed by the hands of Deleterious Ali when things get desperate. They destroyed us at Wembley and, as I skulked away from the ground that evening, it saddened me just how far away Liverpool are from that sort of quality. A strong back line and defensive midfield coupled with their best-attacking options in a generation, it says something that Son is underrated. A hell of a player.
And yet something changed over the following weeks. Instead of a Wembley hangover, the Reds grew stronger as Spurs fell away. They’re now two points behind us and – though you won’t hear it cited very often – have a worse goal difference to us.
Chelsea too should be stronger than they are or that their league standing suggests, but are always three games away from a new manager and rebuilding programme. Following their recent defeat to Bournemouth and Watford in the same week the Antonio Conte became the favourite to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked, even reaching 1/8 in some quarters. Even Wenger was 25/1!
Speaking of Arsenal – well, it would take up the entire server space of this website to try to work out what the hell’s going on there.
Liverpool won’t win the League this season, but second is up for grabs and it stuck in my craw when Alan Shearer said of us on Match of the Day on Saturday ‘they should make the top four.’ I’ve no idea what table he’s looking at. The game at Old Trafford on 10th March could be the showdown to decide second place and we’re the side who are knocking in four, five and sevens in. What’s more, United will have to attack us in that game and that means space in behind them if our press is up to snuff.
Interesting days ahead, Reds. Interesting days indeed.